It's 6 PM on a cold Spring evening. After a soul-crushing circuits lab spanning three hours, I begrudgingly walk myself home. The remnants of a humbling sunset dance across the high-rises in the distance, just beginning to slip away. Its beauty remains overshadowed by the cloud hanging over my head - I have approximately 2 hours to cook, do homework and sort out my priorities, before leading a 3-hour dance rehearsal.
Frankly, dance used to excite me. An opportunity to do what I love, surrounded by talented teammates and a designated time to hone my craft. Heck, even my classes used to excite me. But this semester, their combination felt particularly hellish - Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations, Introduction to Computing (Java), Circuits and Introduction to Materials Science. To top it off, I threw in the School of Aerospace Engineering’s Student Advisory Council, Research and the Design-Build Fly Club - for good measure - as if I wasn’t overcommitted already.
Such was the gloom-and-doom semester that I had subjected to myself. Now don’t be fooled - I did try to do everything but I didn’t do it all well.
I felt stuck.
You’d think I’d know better. I already knew what they said:
“Work at capacity.”
“Don’t stretch yourself too thin.”
Then why was it so easy for my balanced hustle to slip into a not-so-balanced endless sprint? Why did I view giving 110% 24/7 as the only affirmation of working hard and doing ‘the most’? When did I start deeming exhaustion as a mark of hard-work or a badge of success?
“Unfortunately, we assume the fact that we’re exhausted means that we’re doing something right”, says leadership coach Lenore Champagne Beirne. “Detangle exhaustion as evidence for being on the right track or working really hard.”
Here's a revelation: you don’t need to do it all.
My 18-credit hour semester, interspersed with three clubs, a social life and taking care of the basic necessities - cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry deserved no sympathy. I did that to myself. And I was to accept full responsibility had I crashed and burned. While nothing quite so tragic occurred, I still lived with the weight of knowing that while I was ‘doing it all’, I wasn’t doing ‘my best’.
This is what was really absurd. I had really convinced myself that a series of B’s and C’s in school, acute stress, overeating, missed workouts, performing with 60% energy during dance and barely contributing to research would be fixed with a few ‘motivational quotes’, tutoring sessions, academic coaching appointments and eating a salad here and there.
It was a recipe for burnout. Not success.
I share this with you with the hope that my honesty tugs at the last thread holding you together and every inch of the bundled mass of stress that you are, along with the badge of burnout that you wear for success.
What if we stubbed out the humour in being ‘a mess’ or ‘a trash person’. What if we were really honest with ourselves with what our priorities were - what we need to do when and perform each task with the integrity that it deserves.
Here is what I urge you to do: Ask yourself - is this really the best version of you? Are you really trying? What can I let go of? What is good for me?